Edward Snowden, the discloser of U.S. National Security Agency secrets, now has the New York Times and some other U.S. voices urging he be allowed to return to his home country. But will he be welcome? I once found myself in the same situation as he, and know something about the dilemma he faces.
I too was brought up in the post-Nurenberg belief that loyalty to one’s principles outranked loyalty to one’s nation-tribe. Wrongs and evils should be exposed, regardless. But somewhere along the line things changed. Our democratic nation-tribes were incapable of doing wrong; it was “the others” who were evil. To expose wrongdoings by one’s own side was ipso facto to support the evil of the other side. You could be called a traitor, and there were strict punishments to prove it.
My dilemma was over Vietnam back in 1964. The war there was just getting underway and it was already clear that not only was our side breaking the Geneva peace agreements of 1954 but we were also intervening to support the wrong side in what was bound to be a very long and cruel civil war.
To justify that policy our side had set out to demonize China and blame it for the war, even though for me as a China specialist it was obvious Beijing had almost nothing to do with the war. Even then the mutual dislike between Hanoi and Beijing was well-known.
Things came to a head in October of that year when as a Moscow-based diplomat I had to sit in on a bizarre Kremlin meeting where an Australian foreign minister set out to use 19th-century myths of Chinese expansionism to persuade the Soviet leadership that China was indeed responsible for the Vietnam war and that they should join us there to stop the Chinese dragon.
The Soviet reply was curt and sharp. The 19th-century myths were nonsense. So too was the idea that the Moscow would support the West in Vietnam. On the contrary, the Soviet Union would continue to support the brave Vietnamese people in their struggle against U.S. imperialism. As for the Chinese, Moscow’s only hope was that they would do more to help Hanoi.
Did this fiasco do anything to persuade the leaders of our truth-loving democracy to reconsider? Of course not. Canberra went on to pretend that the foreign minister had simply gone to Moscow to congratulate the new Soviet leadership which had just replaced Khruschev (in fact he had gone at the urging of the United States, which was also caught up in the myth of Chinese expansionism), and that not only was China responsible for the Vietnam war but that the war was China’s first aggressive step in the direction of Australia.
What do you do in this situation? Unlike Snowden I could not just walk out carrying boxes of documents proving that an evil was about to be committed — that a small harmless nation was about to be destroyed and many of its people killed simply so our leaders could indulge in their anti-communist, anti-China fantasies. One could only wait and hope for some sanity to prevail. But the daily gloating reports of B-52 bombing raids and body counts soon made it clear there would be no sanity.
So I decided to resign and make some kind of protest. But virtually the only people to notice were Pravda, the pro-Moscow faction of the Australian Communist Party, and a struggling Australian newspaper which ran my criticisms under the heading of “Australia and the Lost War” (in fact I was arguing the U.S. could well win that war if it killed enough people). It was a small reward for leaving my previous high-security tent.
To bolster my claims I took the risk of disclosing some information I gained inside that tent — that Canberra had played a key role encouraging the U.S. into Vietnam, that Western disinformation activities had set out deliberately to create the myth of Chinese aggressiveness, and so on. But all that did was to leave me to the tender mercies of Canberra’s spooks and blacklists. Between them they would try, with some success, to derail my efforts to begin a new career in Australia.
Fortunately I was able to start over again in a Japan which in those days was still attractively progressive and understanding. But even there they would use their embassy or media-based agents to try to disrupt one’s work — one of their larger successes was to use an alleged prime ministerial scholarship to lure away a secretary.
As Snowden will discover, there is no escape from these people. You have done what you believe was needed for your country. But they have decided you are not needed, and they have big budgets to help suppress you. Even after it becomes clear that what you did was right, you are still seen as an undesirable who has aided the enemy.
Snowden has exposed a monster sitting at the heart of our Western democracies — a monster able to extend its information tentacles in every direction. And with the information comes power — power for those with the information to dominate those without. Even after their excesses have become obvious — Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan for example — they still have the power to try to cripple opponents.
Often they have even more power, by claiming a need to cope with the backlash from those excesses. It becomes a vicious circle — very vicious.
Bringing Snowden back to the U.S. will not avoid this problem. He will still be vulnerable to the hatreds he has aroused. Currently he has little choice but to seek asylum abroad. So I have a suggestion.
Over the years the Nobel Peace Prize committee has not distinguished itself by impartiality. It shows a consistent bias to choose people who feed our self-righteous Western prejudices. So here’s a chance to go the other way: give the next peace award to Snowden.
Gregory Clark is a former president to Tama University and currently trustee of Akita International University (Kokusai Kyoyou Daigaku). A Japanese translation of this article will appear at www.gregoryclark.net